Working parents: How to manage your kids

Being a parent and a career person is like doing two jobs, back-to-back. Plus there's the guilt of not being able to do justice to either. What you need is some smart advice

Working parents

Ajay and Manasi both have demanding careers that take a lot of their time, focus and attention. Also parents to a five-year old and a three-year old, they struggle to make time for their kids. Manasi is accomplished in managing her varied roles with efficiency. Ajay, a supportive husband and a caring father, is always there when Manasi can't be. Between them, they manage to see to it that their children are never de-prioritised. Yet, they often wonder if this is enough. Both fear that they are not spending enough time with the children.

You are not alone

If Ajay and Manasi's situation touches a chord in you, then you are not alone. There are many working couples facing a similar plight. In such a situation, giving adequate time, love and attention to kids can often be a perennial struggle. How do we manage to be our best, both as parents and as professionals? Many couples are today riddled with this question.

Behind the confident exterior is a mind riddled with self-doubt--are we doing the right thing? Many of us young parents of today have learnt to live with this constant guilt; it's in fact become a way of life for us. Yet, it burns us up from within, eats us up, and is constantly there, at the back of our minds.

Tips for working parents

Is there any way to break this vicious cycle? Sure there is. With a little rearrangement of schedule and a change in perspective, you will be able to break free of this constant worry about not doing enough for your kids, and for your jobs. Let me give you some tips:

Plan in advance

Work out your childcare plans well in advance, preferably even before your baby is born. This will help you anticipate problems and work out best possible solutions. Evaluate childcare options available to you: parents or in-laws willing and able to care for your children, day care or creche, or a live-in maid. Jointly discuss what would work best for you as there are pros and cons attached to each of the options. Together you can decide the best option.

Split chores

Parenting is a joint responsibility, and both the mother and the father have a crucial role to play in it. So, divide responsibilities. But also be flexible. There will be times when papa just won't able to cancel an important meeting though it is his turn to take the children to their sports class. At such times, mom may need to chip in. Such adjustments are critical, as there will often be times when you will experience a clash of priorities.

Manage your time well

Maintain a daily planner and a to-do list, which can direct your day, week and month. Not only will it give you a perspective on the tasks before you, but it will also enable you to anticipate the amount of time and effort that will be required of you. Plan your schedule especially around the children's school calendar; mark out their holidays, exams, open days, PTA meetings. Once you mark these out in advance, you can plan your schedule at work accordingly, to the extent possible to you. It is also helpful to take your spouse's schedule and calendar into account when planning your own schedule.

Stop hankering for perfection

Give up the idea of becoming a 'Super Mom' or 'Super Dad' and a 'Super Employee'. This does not mean that you submit mediocre work at office, or that it's okay to ignore your kids--far from it. On the contrary, you have to constantly strive to give your best at both places. However, you also need to be prepared for occasional compromises and adjustments. There are invariably going to be situations when your kid falls sick on the day of a crucial presentation at work. At such times, you will have to take tough decisions. Sit down calmly, assess your priorities, and decide what is more important at that point in time. Once the decision is taken, stop feeling guilty about it. The fact remains that you cannot be at two places at the same time.

Rope in support from your family

Not just your partner, but your in-laws, parents, and siblings can become your support systems when you need them. Build relationships with them that are mutually satisfying, so that they are there for you whenever you need them.

Build bonds with other parents

Often, you will find that parents of your child's classmates are in the same boat as you. If you have a good relationship with them, you can split school-related responsibilities--such as having a car pool. This will also enable you to have a better idea of what is happening in school.

Teach your children the value of independence

Raise children to be independent. Explain to them the nature of your work, why it is important to you, as well as your value to the organisation you work for. Teach them to do things for themselves, so that the time that you spend with them is indeed quality time. Often, we hide our struggles and efforts from our children. Instead, make them aware of it. This will inculcate sensitivity and awareness in them. They will learn to treat you and your work, as well as work in general, seriously.

Find creative ways to spend time with your kids

It is important that you spend time with your kids as often as you can. You can have a casual conversation, discussing your day, in the kitchen, while you are cooking the evening meal. You can call up your child during a break to have a general chat, or just check on how she is doing. You can just bond with her while discussing the latest car models as you wash the car together every Sunday. There are plenty of opportunities of spending time with your children. You just have to be open to finding them.

Communicate frequently

Always keep communication open with your child--no matter how old he or she is. Make a habit of leaving notes for your children, which they can read when the return home from school or tuition classes, discuss things with them, ask them how they feel about things. Most importantly, listen to them when they talk.

Manage your guilt

Many parents feel so guilty about the fact that they don't spend enough time with their kids that they often end up overcompensating. Overcompensation can be in the form of material things or in giving in to every wish, desire and demand that the child makes. Alternately, some parents in the fear of not spoiling the child become too strict. It's important to be natural as parents, and follow your instincts, rather than allow guilt to drive your reactions and responses.

Enjoy their innocence

Most important of all, enjoy the time you spend with your children without allowing guilt to come into the picture. Remember, you are doing your best for the child, you are the parent, and you love your children. Cherish the bond you share with them, and give your best, and it will be enough. Your child will learn to value you, respect you as a parent as well as a person, and you would have done a great job at parenthood.

Helping children face the challenges they face

Despite all our efforts, as children of working parents, our children face certain unique challenges. The better prepared we are in anticipating them, the better we will be able to help our children tide over these challenges.

Loneliness

How to meet it: Most children, especially younger ones, will often tell their mothers to leave their jobs, when they see other parents [especially moms] picking up their friends at school. "Why can't you come to pick me up like so-and-so's mom does?" is a common enough wail that most working women have heard. This feeling is even more intense for the only child.

Peer influence

How to meet it: Children of working parents are more susceptible to peer influence, since parents are not physically around to monitor their activities on a regular basis. Thus, parents need to zealously guard against unhealthy peer influence. It is important to know who your child's friends are and what they do when they are together.

Distractions and bad habits

How to meet it: As children grow up, it is important that parents keep an eye on the amount of time they spend watching TV, surfing the Internet, or playing computer/mobile/console games. While these activities are mere distractions at best, at worst they can be addictive, and can take your child's mind and attention away from studies and healthy peer relationships.

Alienation and strained parent-child relations

How to meet it: Children of working parents can become detached and alienated from their parents, if care is not taken to communicate with them on a regular basis. They become used to having independence; they can at times be resentful of parents not being around for them and can cut themselves off from them emotionally. The best way to guard against this is to always make it a point to be connected with them on an emotional level, no matter how busy your schedule.

Personal safety

How to meet it: As working parents, we are not around all the time to safeguard our child. Our children are at an increased risk if they are by themselves at home, with a maid or in a day-care centre. Make sure you have the right references and identification for the help you hire. Never leave the kids by themselves, if the place you live in has any security or safety hazard. Leave all possible emergency numbers with the children. Do surprise checks by arriving early at the day-care or at home just to monitor the goings-on.

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